Heifer Rearing

Published 1 July 08

Heifer Rearing

Rearing replacement dairy heifers costs an average of £1090 per heifer but farmers could slash costs by changing their system.

Replacement rates are now running close to 30% in many herds, making heifer rearing a considerable cost to the business.  But by looking at alternative rearing systems - such as calving heifers earlier - producers could enjoy a net benefit of about £500/head.

It is important to work out what you are spending per head and ensure it is money well spent.  The two main ways to cut rearing costs are to increase inputs and calve earlier or use lower inputs and calve later.  The most suitable strategy for you will depend on the facilities available on your farm.

To help producers find the best approach for their farm DairyCo has launched a Heifer rearing cost workbook CD into which you can input your own figures and explore the effects of changes to your system.

Six different rearing methods can be compared, ranging from extensive rearing, calving heifers at 33 months old, to a high input system calving at 22 months, as well as contract rearing and flying herds.

Having entered your own costs for inputs such as milk replacements, concentrate feeds, bedding and labour, the workbook shows how different systems will perform.  It also allows for 'what-if' scenarios when input costs change.

The workbook also takes into account opportunity cost, to allow you to consider what else the land could be used for.  This highlights the fact that calving heifers younger should mean fewer and smaller groups of animals to manage and less pressure on buildings and land.

The most cost-effective solution in the majority of cases is reducing calving age to a target of two years.  This way the heifer is earning you income sooner, from the same overall input cost of a heifer that calves later.

The age at which a heifer reaches puberty is influenced by her weight and farmers should set a bulling weight target of 55-60% of mature weight.  It is important not to aim for standard book values as they may not reflect your own herd.  Use your own adult cows as a reference.

Wither height is also a good indicator which can be easily measured against a simple line painted on the cattle crush or handling pen wall.

Calving at two years or less will not suit all farm situations, but it can yield financial benefits.  And using the Heifer rearing cost workbook CD to identify the optimum system for your farm could save you a significant amount.

To order your free Heifer rearing cost workbook CD call DairyCo on 02476 478695 or email publications@dairyco.org.uk.

*Richard Davies is the extension officer for North Wales for DairyCo. He can be contacted on 01824 790214; 07966 237841 or by email richard.davies@dairyco.org.uk.